September 2016 Edition

Published monthly by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization   

Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
The Gospel According to Ralphael
Ralphael Plescia turns a forgotten service station into a visionary environment

In a run-down commercial block on Salt Lake City’s State Street, Ralphael Plescia has spent nearly 50 years making religious art to tell the story of creation as he understands it. He calls his private museum a “school,” and he’s trying to restore Biblical characters and stories he feels have been lost. His sculptures and paintings are not “in” the rooms though, they are embedded in the structure. He’s hollowed out underground tunnels to make space for Hell and the Garden of Eden. Narrow pathways and bridges traverse groundwater bubbling up from below. And there’s a very real chance the building will be bulldozed when he dies, but that doesn’t stop him from working every day to complete his vision.

Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Side by Side
Sue Martin and Nancy Vorm explore repetition and collaboration in Iterations at the Alice Gallery

From conception to execution, Iterations (opening Sept. 16 at Alice Gallery) promises to be a fascinating show. Working side-by-side in the same space on Thursday afternoons since May, Nancy Vorm and Sue Martin were hoping to see if their individual processes might influence each other. They created “iterations” – or series – of their individual work, sharing motifs when appropriate. Based on a recent studio visit, the idea has evolved beautifully.

Inspired by artists past and present who are known for iterations (Cezanne, Monet, and Jasper Johns, to name a few), the two artists are giving viewers a glimpse into their creative processes, both intensely introspective and playful, according to a press release.

Music Profile

30 Years Bach
Despite the name, Utah Baroque Ensemble isn't just Baroque

Ask Martha Sargent, director of the Utah Baroque Ensemble, how the group began nearly 30 years ago and she smiles. It’s a question she’s heard often. “The choir really began with Douglas Bush and the Utah Bach Choir,” she says, “but when Doug got too busy to continue leading the group, I was approached about taking over as conductor. I knew that an opportunity like this wasn’t likely to come up again if I said no, so I agreed to direct the group even though I was busy raising my kids, teaching a lot of oboe students, and finishing up my master’s degree at the time.” Their first performance in Zion Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City saw a small audience of 12 people, but their audience has grown and continues to grow every year.   

Based on the choir’s name alone, audiences might be forgiven if they come expecting a program filled with Handel, Bach, and Vivaldi. Instead, the repertory is as likely to include a folk hymn or the latest piece by contemporary Norwegian composer Gjeilo as it is to include Bach. “It’s never just Baroque music,” Sargent continues. “Of course, we always include Baroque pieces in our concerts and we always include Bach in our repertoire. But we also know the audience needs variety, so we program everything from Renaissance to contemporary works, too.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
UMOCA in Autumn
art [the past], post-art [the present], and non-art [the future?]

It’s impossible to coherently account for the things that pass for new or cutting-edge art in today’s gallery installations. That’s why the art is called Contemporary, a label that prompts the question to what? Or it’s called International, a smokescreen for its lack of any local connection. The dire predicament of fine art right now is the proverbial animal in the room that no one wants to acknowledge; it’s as if an author died between books and the publisher hired someone to continue writing under the same name, all the while keeping it a secret so as not to hurt sales. Important theoreticians like Allan Kaprow and Donald Kuspit, in their rush to conceptualize the fine arts as dying or extinct human activities, have leapfrogged over today’s gallery fare, which they call ‘post-art,’ while they anticipate a future time in which ‘non-art’—human products that participate directly in life, rather than stand apart and comment on it—will fully replace fine art. Something that comes close to non-art might be Jennifer Seely’s Supporting Elements, in the Street Gallery at UMOCA: bisecting an actual gallery being more interesting than the objects its walls were built to support. Yet many art lovers retain an interest in the ongoing search for a fine art worthy of the name and relevant to our time. And one of the best places to look continues to be UMOCA, where curators still demonstrate formal taste in choosing the things they show.

In the large gallery, the main show is called Object[ed]: Shaping Sculpture in Contemporary Art,  the typographical variation perhaps referring to the recent acceptance of works of art that exist in the mind, but not as objects in the material world. Anyone who follows architecture should be thrilled by recent gains women are making in a field that traditionally has been exclusive to men, where despite the recent death of Zaha Hadid, more than a dozen women worldwide, from Louise Bethune to Maya Lin, keep busy not just imagining, but actually building visionary structures. One of the more successful, Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects, and her illusionistic Aqua Building in Chicago, came forcefully to my mind during the opening of Object[ed]. All six bodies of work here are informed by architecture, which whether present or absent is everywhere implied.

For example, Caitlin Cherry’s “Mute City, Big Blue, Port Town” frames itself as the sort of tiled swimming pool one expects to find in a hotel. Lining the pool’s bottom is a late-20th century painting: what might be called an illusionistic (if not exactly representational), geometric abstract. Because this style allows the viewer’s mind to project depth into the image, Cherry has thoughtfully added a sign forbidding diving. It’s a lot of work for an old joke, and while the painting may be interesting in itself, the presentation makes it difficult to see properly. Even the melding of 2-D and 3-D art was done more seamlessly, as for example by David Smith in the early 1960s.

“Mute City, Big Blue, Port Town" by Caitlin Cherry. Courtesy Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
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